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Oral-History:Joseph Fischer

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About Joseph Fischer

Joseph Fischer was born in Lakehurst, New Jersey, ‘home of the dirigibles,’ where his father was a lighter-than-air sailor. After moving around quite a bit in his younger years, his family finally settled in San Diego. Fischer attended San Diego State, where he got his degree in physics, after which he worked at the Navy Electronics Lab in antenna design, and also went back to San Diego State to earn his masters in physics. After the Lab, Fischer went to Convair in 1952, moving on to Genistron in 1961, and Litton from 1970-77. This interview also touches upon Fischer's time at Xerox and the formation of his own company, Fischer Custom Communications. Fischer talks about his involvement in various projects such as the Atlas missile, Gemini, Apollo and the DD-963, as well as his participation in the IEEE EMC Society, serving as its president in the 1970s, and his work on antennas, radio interference, current sensors and filter design.

Much of the interview discusses the evolving nature of the EMC field and the Society’s role in the IEEE. Fischer also underlines the importance of bringing in EMC experts early in the designing process – for both military and civilian projects – in order to be more economical. He discusses the significance of returning to the basic fundamentals of physics in order to understand a problem more thoroughly, and the importance of education.

About the Interview

An Interview Conducted by: John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, 12 May 2005

Interview #451 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Joseph Fischer, an oral history conducted in 2005 by John Vardalas, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

Interview: Joseph Fischer

Interviewer: John Vardalas

Date: 12 May 2005

Place: Fischer Custom Communications, Torrance, CA

Childhood, family, and education

Vardalas:

Do you prefer Joe or Joseph?

Fischer:

I prefer Joe.

Vardalas:

You were named Joseph, right?

Fischer:

Yes, correct.

Vardalas:

Let's start with some of the basics. When and where were you born?

Fischer:

I was born in Lakehurst, New Jersey, home of the dirigibles – lighter than air. My father was a lighter-than-air sailor. He had 12,000 flight hours as a matter of fact.

Vardalas:

Really? Oh my goodness.

Fischer:

For the USS Los Angeles about 1922 to 1928.

Vardalas:

The Hindenburg must have made an impression on the family.

Fischer:

Yes, very much. He was out of the Navy by that time. When the USS Shenandoah crashed in Michigan that made an impression on my mother. "You're out o' here."

Vardalas:

Were you raised in New Jersey?

Fischer:

No. When I was two years old my dad went to work for Goodyear Rubber Tire. He had been a sailor in lighter-than-air and they were doing a lot of work for the Navy. That was in Akron, Ohio. We stayed there a couple of years. That was in the middle of Depression, so he then went into civil service and moved the family to Vallejo and the Naval Shipyard there. Then he was one of the first thirty-five civilians to move into North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego. He was head of the control cables there. He built control cables for when airplanes still originally flew with wires – not electrical wires.

Vardalas:

Right, not fly by wire like today. That was for the Navy itself.

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Being the child of a military man, you moved around quite a bit.

Fischer:

He was actually already out of the military. He was a civilian by that time.

Vardalas:

How long did you spend in Vallejo?

Fischer:

Just a couple of years. By the time I was seven or eight years old we were in San Diego.

Vardalas:

Did you start your schooling in San Diego?

Fischer:

My schooling was principally in San Diego and at San Diego State College.

Vardalas:

Let's explore more about growing up as a boy in San Diego and your interests. Did you have any early proclivities or interest in science, math, technical or electrical things?

Fischer:

Not really.

Vardalas:

What were you like as a boy?

Fischer:

We lived two blocks from the ocean and I became a beach lifeguard during World War II. All of the young men had been pulled off to war and in 1944 I was just sixteen. The City of San Diego decreed that those who were sixteen to eighteen years old could become eligible if they had water safety experience and lifeguard training. I had lived around the lifeguards since I was seven years old, so I was a natural. I was still going to high school of course, but worked weekends and full summers as a lifeguard all the way through college.

Vardalas:

It sounds like you were in a sense the California stereotype growing up on the beach.

Fischer:

I just didn't have long hair. We still wore very short hair in those days.

Vardalas:

How would you characterize your high school education?

Fischer:

My father and mother were very, very strong on my getting as good an education as possible, but it had to be economical.

San Diego State University

Fischer:

San Diego State had a terrific engineering and physics department that was very, very well noted in the 1930s through '50s. San Diego also had the US Navy Electronics Lab, and I eventually went to work there. I identified two things: (1) I needed a job, and (2) I wanted to stay in San Diego.

Vardalas:

That was it, huh?

Fischer:

That was it.

Vardalas:

How does a young man who has spent years on the beach as a lifeguard choose physics as a major? There are so many other things you could have done.

Fischer:

I first majored in chemistry and then in civil engineering. Those lasted about a year each. Either it was the physics profs with whom I got enamored, or I just took a liking to physics. It was an interest that developed during college.

Vardalas:

From my experience usually it is the converse – that students start out in physics, find it too difficult and go to other things. You went the other way. What was the physics education like there? Do you remember the kinds of courses you took?

Fischer:

Yes. About 30% of my courses were in nuclear physics, 30% was in mechanics and kinematics, and the remainder was electronics.

Vardalas:

You took electromagnetic theory and things like that?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Once you were studying physics, what did you see yourself doing after graduated? Did you have any conception of what you were going to do?

Fischer:

No. What I was going to do was rather undecided. I just said, "Okay, I'm going to get in the field." I actually took a pay cut from being a senior lifeguard to become a GS5.

Vardalas:

What is a GS5?

Fischer:

A GS5 was the lowest on their exempt pay grades in the civil service at the time.

Vardalas:

You took a pay cut for that?

Fischer:

The City of San Diego paid more for lifeguards than a college graduate.

Vardalas:

You gave up pay in the sun.

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

My goodness. That is dedication. Before we go on to your first job, did you do master's in physics too?

Fischer:

Yes. Subsequently I decided that just a bachelor's degree was not really sufficient. I was thrown into antenna design totally by accident. The Navy gave us many opportunities. They took us around to various laboratories at the U.S. Navy Electronics Lab, which Spawar now. In that context they said, "Okay, here is a place you could work and here is another place." We went to several different locations in two or three days. I could see the water and the antenna laboratory overlooked the ocean, so I thought, "Okay. I'm still in my familiar grounds." I was on the top of Point Loma looking right down 400 yards to the ocean, and I was quite content mentally. That is exactly how the accident of my working there started.

Systems engineering antenna laboratory; graduate studies

Vardalas:

Did they start taking you around after you graduated?

Fischer:

Yes. Actually I graduated and then took the civil service examination to become graded and ranked.

Vardalas:

For doing what in the civil service?

Fischer:

It was specifically for electronics. They called them electronic scientists and physicists. Therefore I could have gone either route in the rating scheme. Eventually most everyone did the same thing there in the context that it was electrical or electronic of some nature at that particular lab. I selected the systems engineering antenna laboratory where they had a great deal of work with similitudes. They built miniature ships that were forty-eight-scale models. They were very exact. They had model-makers working day and night building precise replicas of every naval vessel onto which they wanted to put antenna systems. I spent a year doing [that]. At that particular time I realized that a bachelor's degree was not going to hack it, particularly with electromagnetic theory. Even now I am not a theorist. I am a practitioner. I measure things.

Vardalas:

And an experimentalist?

Fischer:

I am an experimentalist. That is the word for which I was looking. I realized however that I needed more theory to become a reasonable experimentalist, so I took one course at a time at night for the next six or seven years. It was good to do it slowly because I got an opportunity to become very familiar with the professors. It became like almost like another day at the office. I spent hours out there much beyond the typical actual laboratory or lecturing time. The professors at San Diego were all very accessible.

Vardalas:

Did any of them really impress you? Does anyone stick in your memory having had an influence on you?

Fischer:

Oh yes. Dr. Moe Chesney was one. Moe was an acoustics specialist. During World War II he joined the Navy and headed up the Navy's sonar school in San Diego teaching sonar and doing experiments. He went back in the Navy for a period of time and we would go to his house at night to keep the classes going even though he had gone back into the service. He held classes in advanced acoustics.

Vardalas:

He made an impression on you.

Fischer:

Yes, very much so, because he identified the necessity to do precise measurements. He made a great deal of evidence on, "When you are in a laboratory, pay attention. What you are doing there is not trivial." Then there was Dr. L. C. or L. E. Smith, who was one of the very early Washington University experimentalists in high-energy physics.

Vardalas:

Really?

Fischer:

Yes. He made quite an impression on me and therefore I took about 30% of my work in nuclear physics at the time. Then there was an electronics professor who had his own businesses. His name was David Kalbfell and his company was Kalbfell Laboratories. He was quite a dynamic individual and worked for Bell Labs. Through him I learned more about regulated power supplies than I ever wanted to know. It just so happened that I had an affinity for laboratories, and I probably took three times the number of labs that were required for graduation.

Vardalas:

You had a knack for doing experimental and precision work.

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Very interesting. Let's explore this a little further. You took several years to do this. Did you find that, having worked in the Naval Labs, you brought to the courses a kind of experience you would not have had if you had you taken it all at once as a student? Did you find that there was an interesting interaction between what you were taking in school and the work you actually did?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

And then going back and looking at the theory back and forth?

Fischer:

Right. I found that to be very enlightening. It was more time consuming, but I felt that I had a very good background in what I was attempting to do. It led to a lot of intuition. In other words I might not know the precise answer or how to calculate it, but I would bound it. I would bind the problem or problems by asking myself what parameters I could have varying. That always impressed me and would always lead to a reasonably good solution, being able to identify.

Vardalas:

The limits of the problem.

Fischer:

Right.

Vardalas:

Did you have to do a master's thesis for this course of studies?

Fischer:

It was not a thesis per se. It was project-oriented. We designed some microwave antenna ranges for San Diego State.

Vardalas:

That was the project on which you worked.

Fischer:

Yes. Interestingly enough, my senior project was not related to electronics but nuclear ionization. We conducted a study at the time when Convair was revamping the B-36 bomber – putting jets on it. My partner and I for our senior project study decided to study cosmic radiation, protons hitting silver nucleus. My partner's father worked in the Convair Fire Department and we talked one of the pilots into taking it up. We wrapped it in about 2" of lead. It was just photographic emulsions at the time.

Vardalas:

Really?

Fischer:

We developed some thirty-five or forty nuclear plates.

Vardalas:

How interesting.

Fischer:

The pilots were a little wary. It was all wrapped in about 5 lbs. of lead and it was over 50,000 ft. for over 8 hours. The pilot kept looking at that piece of lead and before he took off he asked, "Do you know these kids?" In today's world that would never happen.

Vardalas:

Right.

Fischer:

We got a lot of noteworthy data out of that. Later on several term projects by other students actually used these plates and studied them.

Vardalas:

If there had been an ionization lab at the Naval Labs looking over the water you might have wound up doing that, right?

Fischer:

Exactly. It could easily have happened. I could have gone either way.

Physics as background for electrical engineering

Vardalas:

Very interesting. I spoke with some other electrical engineers who studied physics first and I always ask them the same question: In what way do you think a physics background prepared you for your later work in electronics and electrical engineering? Do you have any thoughts now looking back on it?

Fischer:

Yes, I do. I looked at it more when I was ten or twenty years into the industry. My perception – whether it is correct or not, it is my own perception – was that in essence the coursework in physics went down to the very basics of why Mother Nature works the way it does – why thing happen and what parameters cause them to occur. Whereas I saw that in electrical engineering, what few courses I took in it, were more subjected to, "Okay, here is a practical motor. Let's use this motor or design the motor" – not why the motor worked.

Vardalas:

Right.

Fischer:

It was the why of the fundamental parameters of Mother Nature that intrigued me.

Vardalas:

I see. Very interesting.

Fischer:

As I got into antenna work, and which evolved into electromagnetic compatibility, I always looked at the basic parameters that were taking place.

Vardalas:

I see. I interviewed another gentleman who did the first geosynchronous communication satellite. He did his undergraduate and master's in physics, and he commented that this allowed him to go back to the fundamentals. He would go back for himself, recreate it and then go back to it.

Fischer:

That's right. It gives one building blocks on which to work, not starting too high in the pecking order of blocks. One goes back into the basics of what is creating the phenomenon.

Vardalas:

Very interesting. Based on that, did you in later years encourage that in others? Did you encourage more physics in the curriculum for the education of engineers or ever have such opportunities?

Fischer:

Only with youngsters with whom I might have been associated in private life. I was more involved with sporting activities with my youngsters.

Sports

Vardalas:

What sport?

Fischer:

Baseball, football, swimming and water polo.

Vardalas:

I see.

Fischer:

Those kinds of things. I did not delve into higher education. I always felt that young people, whether they were in sports or wherever they are in some kind of a schooling activity, the fundamentals of education are important. I think I have always stressed that to young people or youth.

Vardalas:

Did you ever do any boating?

Fischer:

I was an expert doryman. In fact that was one of the outstanding things in my lifeguard capability.

Vardalas:

You could take out a dory?

Fischer:

Yes, in many rescues. In a particular beach at which I worked riptides would come so fast that eight or ten people had to be picked up at one time. It was not a matter of swimming out after them. I would place myself in a dory at a spot where I knew there was potential danger and wait for them to come, and boom.

Vardalas:

I see.

Fischer:

I am not a sails person per se, though I am a scuba diver still to this day.

Undersea EMI

Vardalas:

I have just taken up scuba diving. I wonder about the issues of interference of EMC in regard to scuba. One can now receive all the data on a watch, but two people next to one another have a problem.

Fischer:

Yes, that's right. I'll digress here for a moment.

Vardalas:

Yes, sure.

Fischer:

At the 1970 EMC Symposium out here in Los Angeles my son and I did the first father-son paper on electromagnetics, and it was on undersea EMI – rescue vehicle can find and latch onto a submarine. I did a theoretical analysis of the propagation of electromagnetics underwater.

Vardalas:

Now the latest is that instead of having the computer indicating everything on the dial – the pressure, temperature and all that – now it's on the wristwatch and is being transmitted by radio signals. However if there is another person next to you with the same equipment they have to recalibrate everything.

Fischer:

I am surprised that they get that much. The frequency must be very, very low to propagate.

Vardalas:

I was speaking to someone who said that when he goes with someone else he has to recalibrate the buddy with him has the same equipment.

Fischer:

I was surprised that the propagation was that good. I don't know if it has been done as a transducer and then is an acoustic transmission between the two or actual electromagnetic.

Vardalas:

That's a good point. I don't know if it is acoustic.

Fischer:

It could be that the transducer is actually transmitting a sound wave.

Vardalas:

Do you think there would be more chance of interference in that case?

Fischer:

The propagation would be better.

Vardalas:

Yes, of course.

Fischer:

The communications range would better. It has been thirty some-odd years since I have thought about this, but I think the wavelength is reduced by a factor of 27,000. Therefore if a 1-MHz wave had a thousand-foot wavelength, it would be 127,000th of that. In other words there would be many more wavelengths away in a given distance.

Vardalas:

I wonder whether a sonic transducer takes more or less energy than radio.

Fischer:

I don't know.

Convair; Fischer's introduction to EMC

Vardalas:

Okay, we'll save that. Can you recall when EMC issues became central in your professional career?

Fischer:

Yes, precisely. It was very vivid. It was between 1956 and 1957. I was working for the General Dynamics Convair Division on the Atlas missile. I had been working on high-speed supersonic aircraft as antenna engineer. I had been working developing antennas for the Atlas missile for about two or three years when one day my boss came in and told me about an organization that was totally independent of Convair but had a subcontract associated with what was called radio interference in those days. My boss said, "We are not really satisfied with what is happening. I have been given the task of putting some of our people in there. Do you want to go try it?" I said, "Okay. I'll try something new." Under that condition I got to know a gentleman by the name of Samuel J. Burruano, who was one of the original signers for the G27 when the IEEE formed the original Professional Group on Radio Frequency Interference (PGRFI). I got to know Sam and he kind of took me under his wing. This was back to fundamentals again. I think the reason I fit in so well at the time was because typical radio frequency engineers were electrical engineer types and they had a difficult time visualizing how things could radiate. Here I had been developing antennas to make them radiate. These are not at all on a missile or aircraft. The entire aircraft is excited and we were trying to make currents flow while dealing with an unknown structure. The physical part of the antenna is not radiating all by its lonesome; it is irradiating the entire body. I had developed structures where I could make things radiate that no one thought it could be done. This was mainly because I had to make sure that I did not deteriorate the performance of the aircraft in its original mission – speed, maneuverability, etc. They were all fared-in type or smoothed-in so as not to perturb the aerodynamics of the vehicle.

Vardalas:

Are you saying that the plane as a conductor had its own electromagnetic field that would change when it was irradiated?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Really?

Fischer:

Oh yes. Depending on how that aircraft was excited it made the currents flow in various portions. The structure of the antenna could be manipulated. As an example, the Delta Wing Fighters had a unique frontal lobe that had a great big null in it. Therefore they were losing communications in a downward angle that was very critical. I figured out a way to irradiate the aircraft wings in order to get rid of that null and force the energy through.

Vardalas:

Did that change the aerodynamics of the plane?

Fischer:

No, no.

Vardalas:

Could the aerodynamics of the plane be changed if it were done the wrong way?

Fischer:

Absolutely. The bottom line was that I was used to making things radiate. I wanted to radiate. In the radio interference field we wanted to get rid of it.

Vardalas:

I see.

Fischer:

Therefore it was very natural for me to take a look at a power supply and see how the vias and wiring was done and say, "Of course that is going to radiate," and "This is what has to be done in order to circumvent that." Most engineers looked at them as a piece of wire or a via or something and never developed the saying, "What does this look like as an antenna?"

Vardalas:

How interesting.

Fischer:

My background in electromagnetics came in ideally and fit very well. Sam Burruano recognized this because he already spent twenty-five or thirty years in the business with RCA. He said, "Gee. You have got some unusual capabilities here. This is going to be really fun for you." Burruano taught me more about the status of things of what was happening in the world of radio interference and the measurement techniques used, etc. I was taught by a master in that field with my own unusual capability of being able to know what would radiate and what would not.

Vardalas:

What was the group that was formed?

Fischer:

This was Convair's radio interference group. It was 1956 or '57.

Military and academic radio interference groups, societies

Vardalas:

Would you guess that other defense companies were coming to the same conclusion that they had to form these groups at the same time or do you think Convair was one of the first to form such a group?

Fischer:

The tri services, the Army, Navy and Air Force, had set up with an Armor series of conferences. They funded one of the universities in Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, to put on a yearly symposium. There was already significant interest in radio interference in the industry. What was not at all clear was the magnitude of how this influenced all the lower tier levels. It was in the military but it was not in the commercial world at all. The FCC had very little influence on these activities. Grumman, RCA and IBM had significant activities going on at the time.

Vardalas:

And Sperry-Rand?

Fischer:

Oh yes, also Sperry-Rand and UNIVAC. I would say that there was already an understanding in the 1950s, and the Navy was plagued with intermodulation problems.

Vardalas:

Because of the ship itself?

Fischer:

Yes. When a ship was irradiated, instead of having just two transmitters it ended up with eight hundred to a thousand of them – just because of all the rust on the different structures. Each portion of rust became a diode.

Vardalas:

Oh, is that right?

Fischer:

Oh yes. This is called the Rusty Bow Effect. The Navy spent millions of dollars with Armor Research. Armor was the original entry that bid for that work.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Fischer:

The Illinois Institute of Technology was a leading educator in the area. I think Art Kall and another fellow who formed a company down in Texas were involved. I can't remember his name.

Vardalas:

Perhaps when you see the transcript you might remember it.

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

With this rusty bow, was it because the dielectric had changed and it rusted? Was the rust itself a different dielectric?

Fischer:

Yes. It would create a diode.

Vardalas:

Really? All the various places where there were fittings. My goodness.

Fischer:

You could actually direction find. You could take a little inexpensive radio that had a directional antenna and hone in on where that source was coming from on it. That was one of the original ways that was done.

Vardalas:

That is how you found out where rust was happening on the ship?

Fischer:

Yes. Then you could take a chipping hammer and start chipping on it and pretty soon the noise would go away.

Vardalas:

How interesting. Was there at this time a realization amongst yourself and others in this area that this whole question of interference and compatibility was a discipline unto itself and deserved something of its own?

Fischer:

Absolutely. Sure. It was almost twenty years after this timeframe, 1967-70 or the early 1970s, before the commercial world actually started paying attention to it. Obviously clocks had become more high-speed and there were more microprocessors onboard. In other words they were now experiencing their own problems. The first influences I experienced with it was the middle 1950s, and we're talking the middle 1970s before the commercial world had enough incentive to pay attention to it. They may have been aware before that, but there was virtually no incentive to really do something about it.

Vardalas:

By the late 1950s yourself and others working on these problems realized that a whole special toolbox was needed and it was a whole area all to itself?

Fischer:

Exactly.

Vardalas:

Unless of course a Society was formed.

Fischer:

A Society was formed, but then there was an SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) committee. I mentioned Armand in there. That SAE committee actually had the ear of the Air Force and the Air Force encouraged that. It was an SAE aerospace committee. It was not just automotive but mostly aircraft with which they were concerned – not only flight safety but flight operations. I spent a great number of years with that. It was a very active committee for fifteen or twenty years. I have not attended in quite a long time. I think I am still a member if they haven't kicked me off. I would have to say that at one time it was the predominant committee actively involved with this, but was more for the Air Force.

Vardalas:

Right.

Fischer:

The Navy got involved somewhat.

Transition from Navy Electronics Lab to Convair Aeronautics, 1952

Vardalas:

This took place during your time as a senior electronics engineer for Convair Astronautics?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Your first job was at the Navy Electronics Lab, and then you jumped up a notch and in 1952-55 you were an electronics engineer at Convair.

Fischer:

I was an antenna engineer at Convair.

Vardalas:

Then they moved you up into that area.

Fischer:

Right, in '56 or '57.

Vardalas:

What opportunity caused you to leave the Navy for Convair? Was it more pay?

Fischer:

Yes. Very simple. At the Navy job I made less than I had as a lifeguard, as I said. Convair was offering to pay me overtime as well. I was asked to work 50 hours a week and was paid overtime, so it was a very simple matter of economics. I needed to bring more money home to my family.

Radiation patterns

Vardalas:

Okay. Studying the radiation patterns from various aircraft in particular, wind tunnels simulate the dynamics of the planes. Can you do scale models in terms of radiation?

Fischer:

Exactly. Similitude was a major way to do that.

Vardalas:

Did you have to re-change the frequencies to correspond to the scale?

Fischer:

Of course. Sure. In other words if there was a 50th scale model of something I would have to go up in frequency 50 times.

Vardalas:

Right. Could you actually in that case put in a wind tunnel and see what would happen?

Fischer:

This is where what they call a free field site was designed. The model is put on a rotating pedestal and then it is uniformly illuminated with RF and rotated in all different positions so that the radiation characteristics in a complete sphere around it can be determined exactly. On a ship, since it was on the ocean, one only had to look at the hemisphere.

Vardalas:

Right. It would go a full sphere around it. Could it be put it in a wind tunnel at the same time as doing that to do both simultaneously?

Fischer:

No. The electrical characteristics of what is called a free field site is substantially different than the sonic activity.

Vardalas:

Okay. Did the whole area have to be isolated so that no other kind of radiation would hit it?

Fischer:

Well, yes. We did not always have that kind of money available, though. It was far too difficult. Therefore what we did was position it high enough above Earth and suspended it there. For instance if it was for an aircraft or a missile, we elevated it to such an angle and then measured the field amplitude changes so that the energy directed at the model was received. The model was the receiver. Even though it might be a transmitter, reciprocity would hold there. We developed transmitting antennas that would irradiate the model uniformly and keep the energy away from Earth. On a rainy day the work would have to be stopped because it changed the radiation characteristics and there would be reflections off of water drops and things like that. The answer to your question is yes, it is done similar to a wind tunnel but with a different set of parameters.

EMI control, Filtron

Vardalas:

Then you moved on yet still stayed with Convair, right?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

In 1957 you worked on the electromagnetic interference control issue.

Fischer:

That's right. That is when my boss said, "Hey, we're got this new issue. We need to be more involved with the company that’s doing Radio Interference analysis and prevention on the Atlas."

Vardalas:

Which company was that?

Fischer:

The company was Filtron. They were carrying on an independent activity and it was not under the purview of Convair, who had the prime contract for the Atlas missile. Therefore they said, "We want to be more involved even though the Air Force has instituted it. You go down and start learning the world of EMI."

Vardalas:

I got the impression from reading this and some other things that in doing these kinds of studies on interference issues and patterns of radiation from objects the testing is expensive.

Fischer:

Yes, it is.

Vardalas:

Did it require justification showing that the result was worth the expense, or did the military's deep pockets and concern for this kind of precision override cost issues?

Fischer:

I did some studies on this. If an EMI study was done in 1960, in 1960 dollars for a $1 million to $3 million contract the EMI impact was no more than 2.5%. However if the EMI study was not done, the ramification of failure was that it could be 200% to 300% overrun. It was, "Pay now or pay later."

Vardalas:

And pay a lot more if later.

Fischer:

A lot more. What it boiled down to was that economically it was a terrific insurance policy. Do the study.

Vardalas:

Did this realization come easily to the companies, or was the military a keen proponent of this and pushing to make sure this got done early in a project?

Fischer:

Their mission in many instances was jeopardized by the possibility of failure of some mechanism. The immunity or susceptibility issues were tremendous. A full aircraft or a full missile could be lost in a fraction of a second – dependent upon its environment or even its self-generating catastrophic environment depending on what equipment was on it. The military had already sustained so many unexpected losses that they were already fully aware of the necessity of carrying out these activities. One had to make a case and document it as to what potential failure modes might be, but once that was done the government would typically fund it.

Atlas missile, telemetry

Vardalas:

Okay. I can understand the need for doing these studies on aircraft, because they are constantly either communicating with the ground or testing the environment around them. Was the Atlas missile doing the same thing?

Fischer:

Absolutely. Additionally, there were a myriad of systems onboard.

Vardalas:

That had communication with the ground?

Fischer:

Yes. In telemetry they wanted to know what the bird was doing. They wanted to know its acceleration and whether its acceleration was achieving the speed of—

Vardalas:

That was passive information. Was there a feedback to that?

Fischer:

No, that was real live telemetry.

Vardalas:

Was getting it something that would affect change? Was there a feedback mechanism back to the missile from the ground, or was it just a one-way communication of data?

Fischer:

Mostly it was one-way, but yes they had two-way because they had to have the command "destruct" obviously. One of my activities later when I was a radio interference engineer on the Atlas missile was that I figured out how to get rid of some weight by combining two of the antennas. The actual telemetry and the command "destruct" were simultaneously done with one antenna. That was unheard of before because there was great concern that one would interfere with the other and that the telemetry data would be interpreted as "destruct."

Vardalas:

Yes. I'm sure you had to prove that one really carefully.

Fischer:

Very. I don't know what other things there were, but there was a great deal of equipment onboard such as autopilots that would tell the gimbles in the engines and the burning and so forth. That was totally independent of the telemetry activities.

Vardalas:

In your interference studies, did you have to worry about how telemetry would affect other systems on the ship?

Fischer:

Absolutely, and including the power supplies. Some of the power supplies had ripple. I conducted one experiment called audio susceptibility in those days. It was audio in low frequencies – 10 Hz to 1 kHz. If ripple was put on the d.c. power supply lines it would drive the bird crazy. It would make the engines and the bird would fly all over the sky. Therefore they stuck with just batteries for eight or ten years. Later they went to more sophisticated motor generator sets that would generate less noise.

Vardalas:

I see. I gather this is a quite sophisticated first principle analysis that was needed such as understanding the fundamentals of radiation and things.

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

It goes back to your physics background a lot.

Fischer:

Yes, it did.

Vardalas:

Thinking back to all that kind of know-how you and others were gaining in others doing this and this understanding of radiation phenomenon and electronics, did that ever lead to a useful diffusion of know-how into the civilian sector? Or was it something that stayed in the military because it was a military concern?

Fischer:

No, the Armor conference was non-classified, and people were able to come in from nonmilitary activities.

Vardalas:

Could it be diffused down to other applications?

Fischer:

Yes, definitely. It was just fundamental parameters. In other words if you have a certain kind of radiation it is going to affect certain kinds of equipment that have such-and-such geometries.

Vardalas:

We'll talk about the civilian applications later, but it seems to be one of those applications that if it were not for the military interest this kind of know-how would not have been generated at all.

Fischer:

I believe that is a true statement.

IEEE EMC symposia

Vardalas:

There was a critical mass of information already generated that was then be transferred to the civilian sector.

Fischer:

That in fact did occur. That is when the IEEE became much more involved. The symposia started in the 1950s or '60s. I don't remember when the first EMC symposium of IEEE standards was held.

Vardalas:

In this article it looks like it began in '56 or so. When was your first involvement with this group?

Fischer:

I got involved in 1961, however I did attend the 1957 symposium.

Vardalas:

February.

Fischer:

It was at Asbury Park. There was one meeting where they established the charter.

Vardalas:

And you were involved in that '57 meeting?

Fischer:

I was an attendee. I was just on the beginning stages of EMI and my boss told me to attend to see what was happening there.

Vardalas:

I see you use the acronym EMI, and I know what that means, but then there is EMC. Are they synonymous?

Fischer:

Yes. Well, one is compatibility and the other is interference.

Vardalas:

If there is no interference they are compatible.

Fischer:

Yes. They are colloquially interchangeable really.

Vardalas:

Okay. The presence of one means the absence of the other.

Fischer:

Yes, correct. They are used synonymously and not necessarily well restricted.

Current sensors

Vardalas:

Both in terms of discussing EMI issues and your development as an engineer understanding and developing this know-how and general impressions, does anything stand out from your days at Convair in reflecting back either in your development as an engineer or otherwise? How do you recall those days?

Fischer:

I got involved in current sensors, and that has become a lifelong study for me.

Vardalas:

What is a current sensor?

Fischer:

It is a current probe. A wire is clamped around and is the current transformer. The Stoddart Radio Company up here in Los Angeles had originally developed the first ones for the Air Force under a study contract. This was back about 1956-58. In 1958 I wrote a proposal along with an associate named Herb Mertel and we won several contracts.

Vardalas:

Three contracts?

Fischer:

Yes. We won three contracts, and one was the study of current sensors.

Vardalas:

For what were they used? Why are they needed?

Fischer:

Voltage was very, very difficult. One had access to a wire by just clamping it around in a noninvasive manner.

Vardalas:

Did you measure the magnetic field around it?

Fischer:

Yes. Have you seen an electrician's clamp on an ammeter?

Vardalas:

Yes.

Fischer:

This is the same thing only it works at radio frequencies rather than just house wiring.

Vardalas:

Right.

Fischer:

I got involved in that, and it was so intriguing I have been building them ever since.

Vardalas:

What is challenging about them?

Fischer:

First it was just a frequency range. Now it is the different kinds of materials that will promote the proper amount of pickup; how sensitive the device is to the magnetic field. There are a whole plethora of problems associated with it, because one does not want to pick up from the outside world radiating in on it.

Vardalas:

You just want the stuff from the wires.

Fischer:

You want to respond to the wire stuff. There is a shielding aspect of it, then there is the type of material and what will be sensitive to pick up the sensitive currents flowing. We are talking here of microamp level here.

Vardalas:

Is this very high frequency?

Fischer:

Yes. In this particular study, Stoddart had brought it up to about 200 MHz and Herb Mertel and I brought it up to 1 GHz. We have subsequently gotten them up to 3 gigs in my company. I have found it that intriguing that looking at product lines, in a commercial sense, typically in a technology like computers if one buys a computer then six months later it's obsolete. This device that has withstood the test of time economically as well as in capability for 50-plus years.

Vardalas:

Is this the kind of device that would be used for diagnostics?

Fischer:

Yes, and it is now in both military and commercial specifications as the method of determining compliance with CISPR, IEEE and ANSI specs.

Vardalas:

I see. I don't know what the clamp device is at a high frequency, but was there any question of response time, relaxation, hysteresis, anything like that?

Fischer:

All of that goes into it.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Fischer:

It is a very simplistic-looking thing, but it has been intriguing to me.

Vardalas:

Going back to EMI, when that is clamped onto a wire but that wire is part of a whole operating system, do you have to make sure that nothing in the rest of the system is interfering with that?

Fischer:

That's right.

Vardalas:

And you can shield it?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

That's all part of this?

Fischer:

Yes, that's all part of the parameters of designing the device.

Vardalas:

Was the designing of this device by trial and error? Was there some modeling being done?

Fischer:

A lot of both. Fifty years of trial and error. The world of magnetics has changed in fifty years, so we have to stay abreast of what magnetic materials are available to us. That in turn depends upon the whole gamut of what alters a magnetic core, for example. For instance, high field intensities that might change the permeability, and too much current could saturate the core. Then there is also the question of whether the RF characteristics are such that it is sensitive to pulse shapes and various things.

Vardalas:

With that kind of know-how, was there a crossover when computers had magnetic cores and were going to higher and higher frequencies and memories?

Fischer:

There was probably a little bit. We probably borrowed from that.

Transition from Convair to Genistron, 1961

Vardalas:

What was it like working for Convair?

Fischer:

It was a pretty good company. I almost felt that I had left a part of myself behind when I left there. It was a very classified area surrounded by a huge metal fence. When I walked outside after signing off I felt I was on the outside and not on the inside anymore.

Vardalas:

Why did you sign off?

Fischer:

Again it was economic. I had the opportunity to go to Genistron. In 1961, I moved my family from San Diego to Los Angeles. My youngster was just about in junior high school and I didn't want to make any changes with kids in high school because I felt that would be too upsetting to them. I have not regretted that move.

Vardalas:

Was this a civilian move?

Fischer:

Yes. I was civilian even at Convair.

Vardalas:

But the application was military.

Fischer:

Genistron had seven shielded rooms and they offered EMI testing services and built filters. I brought the current Probe line with me and set them up in that business as well.

Vardalas:

I see.

Fischer:

I gained a lot more expertise in filter design there. I went from being the senior project engineer to chief engineer to general manager of that particular division, which was under Fred Nichols.

Vardalas:

Could anyone contract them to do testing?

Fischer:

Right. We had Litton. I used to give out turkeys to Litton employees. They would be there for a full year doing testing. Litton Industries would have a piece of equipment needing development that had a high EMI profile and therefore they needed expertise. They would hire us and come in and take over a whole shielded room and lab and equipment and my engineers.

Gemini and Apollo spacecraft

Vardalas:

I see. Certain aspects of the Gemini space program were also being tested there. Is that correct?

Fischer:

Yes. I was a consultant. The company would hire me out. I worked on the Gemini and on the Apollo.

Vardalas:

I guess it was the same thing as the Atlas in a way.

Fischer:

It was everything, military as well as commercial.

Vardalas:

Was the same kind of problem being attacked in the issues with the spacecraft?

Fischer:

Yes, exactly.

Vardalas:

Except now it was a capsule instead of an Atlas missile.

Fischer:

Correct. That's right.

Vardalas:

Were there any issues of communications in EMI when there is reentry and there is ionization going on all around the spacecraft? Or what that a blackout period?

Fischer:

That was pretty much a blackout, because a fierce amount of ionization is generated. There was one company that was called Meteor.

Vardalas:

I know that company.

Fischer:

That ionization trail could form a miles-long antenna.

Vardalas:

I wrote a book on that.

Fischer:

Okay. Well you are more familiar with than I. I never thought about the question you just posed, because I was never involved in any of the reentry stuff.

Vardalas:

That plane was called Janet. It would send a pulse of data and they would wait for a media burst. They pulsed it all up and got it back down really quickly.

Genistron

Vardalas:

Anyway, that's very interesting. Was this a different kind of work at Genistron? Before you were in design work.

Fischer:

Myself and a colleague by the name of Jim (Jimmy) Senn were brought on to work there. Jimmy Senn should be declared as one of the really original educators.

Vardalas:

In what way?

Fischer:

Senn prepared lectures for companies to educate people in RFI, EMC and EMI. He published quite a bit in Transactions and the Armor Conference. Don White would publish a book and also lecture. Jim Senn was out here on the West Coast in that same timeframe lecturing to various companies. As an example, a company such as a Hewlett-Packard or any company that had an interest in educating their staff would say, "Tailor us eight or ten lectures that will bring our engineers up to speed" on some level. Jim was worked for me at the time and put together these lectures. My job was to do the everyday production stuff like make current probes and filters and things like that, but I would always have three to five proposals on which I would be working. I would write proposals from about 3:00 in the afternoon until midnight. We were quite successful. Anything under $50,000 I would have us at just about a 50% capture ratio.

Litton Systems; interference prediction model

Vardalas:

In 1970-71 you moved on to Litton Systems.

Fischer:

Right.

Vardalas:

Here for the first time it was actually called Systems EMC Department as an official title.

Fischer:

Yes. It was principally because of the timeframe when terminology was being altered. Litton Data Systems Division had an EMI or radio interference lab long before I got there – at least eight or ten years. At this particular time they had a lot of work. Then they added the Spruance destroyer program, the DD-963. They are now starting to retire them after thirty some-odd years. They launched the first ones in 1972.

Vardalas:

You did a lot of work on the interference prediction model.

Fischer:

Yes. Onboard this ship there was something like thirty to forty antennas communicating with one another unintentionally.

Vardalas:

Right.

Fischer:

Therefore we had to arrange them in frequency bands or physically arrange them in such a manner that it would not make the ship completely incapable of communicating. For instance these two radars here.

Vardalas:

Up in front near the bow.

Fischer:

Yes. Up in this bow part they were putting it together strictly by weight, with the heaviest on the bottom and the next lighter one above it. It turned out that the second harmonic was the same frequency of the top one, so I made them reverse it.

Vardalas:

The engineer must not have been happy about that.

Fischer:

They were very unhappy, because they had already designed the keel. They had to redesign the entire mast structure in the keel up.

Vardalas:

Something interesting comes to mind. Were EMC people called in at the initial design stages? This would have prevented that problem.

Fischer:

Yes. I came in about two years after the program had physically gotten started, but it been going actively for another year. I was hired specifically when I was ready to move on from Genistron. The time had come. This program was very, very large. It was a $7 billion program. 1968-70 was a time when Ph.D.s were pumping gas due to the economic recession. This was a large program and was intriguing to me because I remembered my days at the Navy Electronics Lab. I knew a number of people in the Navy at Crystal City back East and they knew me from my other work over the previous ten or twelve years. It was exciting to me to become a part of the Litton team. They offered me the job of supervising not just this program but others as well. However I physically spent only maybe 15% to 20% of my time on the other programs and about 80% working on the Spruance.

EMC expertise and design

Vardalas:

At what stage was it realized in development with EMI or EMC that this expertise had to be brought in on the ground floor when something was being designed rather than retroactively finding out about the problems?

Fischer:

The Navy had done that already. The Navy was well aware of that necessity and had written it into the requirements.

Vardalas:

Then why did this happen?

Fischer:

Shall we just say that mechanical engineers probably had more sway over the design. I arrived there late enough not to know that part of the history. I am speculating that it was strictly the weight people not wanting to make the ship too top heavy.

Vardalas:

The balance of the ship. Right.

Fischer:

This is another interesting one. Two months after that happened we were studying another design. The UHF antennas on one side would receive and the other side would transmit. Litton had the yardarms allocated to be only 20' long. My staff did a numerical analysis, an actual modeling of the radiation characteristics. The Navy wanted frequencies every 2 1/2 MHz apart. With only 20' separation too much signal was fed over into the sidebands and desensitized the receiver. We made the design go to 40' rather than 20'.

Vardalas:

That made the mechanical people happy too, didn't it?

Fischer:

Needless to say, they wanted me to be quiet when I came into design reviews. Those are two situations where the parameters had been set down properly by the Navy, "This is what we want and this is what we want Litton to design." It was obvious that the mechanical folks had sway over the original until we proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it be catastrophic to the system performance. They did not just take our word for it. We had to come back with studies and analytical and empirical proof that there was going to be a detriment to the ship's performance.

Vardalas:

There is another thing I want to ask you about the EMI. Was there ever an attempt to bring you into design process from the very beginning rather than asking you later, "Will this work?"

Fischer:

It evolved into that very quickly. After I came onboard and we started producing these findings I went back and had general meetings with Navy personnel that were actively overseeing the program. That was one of the things I liked quite a bit about Litton. I was never overruled. If it was a technical issue and I said, "This has to be done," the chief engineer of Litton said, "Go for it. Go back there and do it and make the decision for the company."

Vardalas:

They gave you a lot of freedom.

Fischer:

They gave me a tremendous amount of freedom to do the right thing for the Navy and the customer.

Vardalas:

Interesting.

Fischer:

Therefore it was very gratifying to work for Litton.

Ice and antenna interference

Vardalas:

One more thing before I leave this. In the whole question of the antennas and their interaction with each other and preventing interference, how do these things work when they are in the North Atlantic and ice builds up all over them? Is that an issue?

Fischer:

I don't know if I can answer that question very easily. I'm not aware of whether or not they had difficulties due to the ice. No one ever spoke of it to me.

Vardalas:

My father-in-law during the Second World War was an operator on the Astic, and these corvettes would get so heavy with ice they would have to break it off. The thing would get top-heavy because they had so much ice in the storms, so I wonder what it would do to radiation patterns with ice forming everywhere.

Fischer:

I really don't know. One thing is, the topside of that ship gets pretty hot. One had to be careful to keep these two smokestacks from burning up the equipment with the heat from those turbines. This was over a million horsepower.

Vardalas:

Oh my goodness. That was putting out a lot of heat. Okay.

Fischer:

Maybe that supported the ability to withstand some of the heat. The corvettes might not have had that horsepower.

EMC Society, IEEE

Vardalas:

In '77 you were manager of Systems EMC, which we just discussed. At the same time I see you became the president of the board of the EMC Society.

Fischer:

Yes. Litton was very supportive of anything associated with the IEEE, even at the chapter level. I was the chapter chairman for a while and then decided to run for the board of directors. I did that twice I believe. That may have been two three-year terms. I don't remember. Litton was absolutely delighted when I was elected to the president of the board and made quite a to-do over that in the company. As a matter of fact there were many other engineers at Litton that were associated with the IEEE – though not necessarily in EMC.

Vardalas:

Did Litton encourage association with the IEEE?

Fischer:

Litton encouraged and supported that almost without limit. Their support was also financial. They would pay for trips to go to IEEE meetings or symposia long distances away.

Vardalas:

Was Litton unique in this regard?

Fischer:

I don't think so, but they were outstanding in the context that there had to be forty or fifty engineers I personally knew in other fields that were actively involved in the IEEE being supported full hilt – including costs of plane fare, lodging and so forth.

Vardalas:

Did this continue for many years and did it slow down?

Fischer:

The slowdown for me, when I left in '77, was just that it was another time in my life. I was not unhappy, but the Spruance program was concluding. It was a success, the Navy was happy with it and I felt my time had come. My going to work for Xerox was totally accidental.

Vardalas:

We'll get to that, but first I want to know what the president of EMC Society does. Or what did you do?

Fischer:

What did I do? First of all we made sure there was an EMC Symposium every year. There was a committee established to make sure there ongoing proliferation and communication of technical articles. Education was a major responsibility. The IEEE had various committees and various standards were beginning to be established. This was in the very formative stages, but nevertheless there were standards. One did not have to be a member of the board of directors to be on the committee, but there was a chairman who would act as a leader. Those activities had to be ongoing. Principally there were standards and symposia. Obviously there were finances, and in that Warren Kesselman is almost a saint.

Vardalas:

Is he?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

In what way?

Fischer:

He did battle with anybody that infringed on taking our money. I call it "our money" colloquially. Warren was at Fort Monmouth in those days he could run up to New York City quickly and he understood the ins and outs and protocols associated with IEEE Headquarters. He was the ideal candidate for the job. He was insistent on understanding what was going on and he was very dogged about pursuing it. I don't think anyone else could have accomplished what he accomplished. As an IEEE member and EMC member I sincerely think that no one has done more service than Warren. There are many people that have made major contributions, but Warren has been steadfast over a period of time.

Vardalas:

There is a long interview with him in 2003. You can find the whole transcript at the IEEE website.

Fischer:

From my memory, that is probably what my activities were on the board.

Vardalas:

During the years you were actively involved as president or on the board, were there any particular concerns of the members that come to mind? Was there anything that was a high priority in terms of concerns or challenges faced by the Society?

Fischer:

We were working close to the bone on money, at least from my prospective. One of the activities was to make sure that all members, regardless of whether they attended the yearly International EMC Symposium, received a copy of the proceedings. I will refer again to the fact that in 1970 that we were virtually in a recession. A lot of people did not attend the Los Angeles meetings. I was the publications chairman and there was a lot of money spent to make sure that everyone got that publication.

Vardalas:

Why was that? Was it to keep them involved?

Fischer:

It was to keep them involved. It was a statement of the board of directors at the time that said, "Part of it being education, this is our dedication that we provide each and every member with an up-to-date set of literature from the symposium, and therefore they deserve to get this even though they might not have the wherewithal to get to an actual symposium and pay the entry fee." Of course anyone that was not a member certainly had to pay regardless. Well, it took a lot of money and there was a lot of consternation over the amount of money spent and then that practice was stopped for five or six years. When they started making more money and had more money in the coffers they went back to giving every member a Transaction.

Vardalas:

Was getting enough members even an issue?

Fischer:

It was a small organization. I'm guessing there were one to and two thousand members in the 1960s. It was miniscule compared to the Computer Society or something like that.

Vardalas:

Was there difficulty in being graded and getting the status of a Society because it was so small?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Do you remember the battles?

Fischer:

I think the previous presidents fought that battle.

Vardalas:

I'll probably ask Jim McNorr that question.

Fischer:

Yes. Ask him. Gene Cory would also be good to ask. He was involved in the committee in the earlier days and later president.

Vardalas:

Do any of the people on this list ring a bell as having also been on the West Coast? Do you know off the top of your head?

Fischer:

Dick (Richard) Schultz is dead. He was killed in an automobile accident. He was an outstanding individual. Heinz Schlike was a colorful character.

Vardalas:

Is he still alive?

Fischer:

I presume he probably has passed on by now. I think Eugene Knowles is dead.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Fischer:

I believe Len Carlson is still alive. He is up in Washington. He was with Boeing for years and years. Ed Bronaugh is in Texas. He is somewhat incapacitated now. No. I'm the only one from the West Coast, not counting the Seattle folks.

Vardalas:

Jim McNorr is in Reno now.

Fischer:

I don't know where he was at the time.

Vardalas:

The membership of the EMC Society was small and the earlier presidents would know about the struggle to make it a Society.

EMC education

Vardalas:

Let me ask you a question in terms of the education issue. Was there ever any concern of maintaining a subsequent generation of EMC people coming into the Society? I get the impression that most of you cut your teeth on military problems. That generation grew to a certain point. In the whole question of renewal, how was one trained to be a person who specialized in EMC in the '70s and '80s? Were EMC courses a part of university curricula by that time?

Fischer:

To some degree, yes.

Vardalas:

Was there concern about that?

Fischer:

Yes. I met Clayton Paul when I was at Litton. He was a professor at the University of Kentucky at the time. In the late '70s and early '80s Clayton instituted a full master's program in EMC engineering. I think he is now at Mercer College in Georgia. He has written several books on EMC.

Vardalas:

Was there concern about trying to influence the curricula of electrical engineering departments to introduce this material into their courses?

Fischer:

To some degree, yes. At UCLA as an example there were a couple of engineers who prepared independent courses on EMC. They were not full curricula but one course in it. However that was sporadic. North Dakota State and the University of Kentucky have full-blown EMC programs. The University of Missouri at Rolla probably had the biggest influence. I think it was probably more individuals that had an academic leaning that then either convinced them on their own or with some support. The University of Kentucky had a close relationship with IBM in Lexington at the time. IBM has spun it off since into something else. However I think most it was very individualistic.

Vardalas:

How is the talent pool of EMC engineers provided to industry now? Is it on-the-job learning?

Fischer:

I think it is both. There is a substantial amount of IEEE material. There became a plethora of textbooks on EMC, and there are still several consultants that lecture full-time. They go to individual companies or they teach specific courses. There are probably at least half a dozen individual consultants that dwell on education. Part of it comes from on-the-job training and part of it comes from education.

Vardalas:

From these extension kind of courses. Are some of these parts of summer school?

Fischer:

A private consultant will offer courses.

Vardalas:

Are these consultants a young or old as a group?

Fischer:

There is a mix.

Vardalas:

Good. Okay.

Fischer:

There is an ongoing trend of more young people.

International EMC activities

Vardalas:

The EMC Society started to develop foreign chapters, right?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

How did that happen? When did the first international chapter form?

Fischer:

First the VDE or German economic community began to impose standards. When IBM or Hewlett-Packard or DEC was exported to Germany, the Germans said, "There shalt be the VDE EMC documents." That then meant that, "Oh my goodness. We have to get involved." The Germans, as well as all the rest of Europe and Japan, started to come to the EMC symposia to become more educated. While Germany had the most stringent regulations, they did not necessarily have the high production or massive amount of industry that the United States possessed.

Vardalas:

That's interesting.

Fischer:

They were very regulatory-oriented. There was a German book published in 1929 in radio interference, so they were highly aware. German radio stations principally owned the airwaves and the government guaranteed that they would reach an audience. Therefore the propagation was important by German federal regulations. In the United States a station is given a transmitter license and who they can reach is their problem. The German government decreed, "You shall be able to reach such-and-such an area," so ambient radio interference had to be kept down.

Vardalas:

Oh, I see. There was a very early tradition and concern about this.

Fischer:

Yes. It was basically government-ordained and driven.

Vardalas:

They started coming to the EMC Society meetings.

Fischer:

Yes, and they became more involved.

Vardalas:

Once chapters started to form in Germany and Japan, did divergent interests and concerns between the various foreign and U.S. chapters cause debate as to what was and what was not important for the EMC Society?

Fischer:

My background is pretty small in this arena because I got more involved in my own company during that particular era, but from my perspective there was not significant controversy. However there was a lot of gnashing of teeth in industry over complying with offshore regulations. I think it gave impetus to say, "Okay, if we can't beat 'em we better join 'em." and "We had better be involved in the promulgation of the specifications and rules."

Vardalas:

Did the U.S. members of the EMC Society secretly harbor a desire to have the same kind of regulatory strength that was enjoyed in Germany?

Fischer:

I don't think so. At that time the CBEMA (Computer Business Electronic Manufacturer's Association), which was a commercial business electronic manufacturers' association started to become stronger and stronger in the 1970s. The confluence was to say, "We've got all these VDE requirements that we have to meet. How do we go about making this more palatable for our companies and at the same time make sure that we can export into these countries?" I spent four or five years on that committee at the time. Some of the biggest influences were IBM, Hewlett-Packard and DEC. DEC doesn't even exist anymore of course.

Vardalas:

Was Control Data one of them?

Fischer:

Oh yes. Control Data was very big. Unisys was another big one.

Vardalas:

In terms of the directions that the Society itself took, did the Japanese or German members say, "The Society should be focusing more on this"?

Fischer:

No, I don't think so. What took place was that whatever was important to individual contributors, be they Japanese or German or whomever, they were given an opportunity to prepare papers and voice their concerns or convictions to the symposium. I think the symposia committee has always looked at the technical content and said, "If this is valid material and well written, let's publish it." I think it just let water achieve its own level there.

Military and corporate roles in EMC research

Vardalas:

I have a quote here. In an interview Chester Smith said, "The civilian side of EMC will be a biggie from now on." That was in 1993. Is that true now? If you look at those who engage EMC people, does the civilian side or military side now dominate?

Fischer:

That is a tough question, because it is company-oriented.

Vardalas:

If try to quantify the energy that goes into it, whether dollars or people?

Fischer:

I can only give you my own impression. My other engineers here might have opinions different than my own, because often they see the customers more than I do nowadays. My perspective is that perhaps not in total dollars but certainly in terms of activity the commercial world is extremely substantial. I don't know whether I would classify it as equal to the military business. I don't have the ability to judge the actual dollars and cents, but I know that twenty years ago the commercial world was certainly as big if not bigger than the military.

Vardalas:

Putting aside the dollar issue of who is spending more money on what, in terms of where the know-how resides, do the people who are skilled and the experts in this area reside in companies or divisions that are devoted to military applications?

Fischer:

I think they are pretty well comparable now.

Vardalas:

And some individuals might wear two hats?

Fischer:

Yes – dependent on the company's proclivities in getting contracts, military or commercial. For instance Cisco is probably almost all commercial and General Dynamics is probably predominantly military. Those are just two potential examples. However I would say that the expertise involved at the EMC level would be qualified to work in both arenas.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Fischer:

There is enough similarity and cross-fertilization between a military EMI spec and a commercial EMI spec that people trained in EMI would do well in either arena.

Vardalas:

That almost intercepts my next question. As the Society advanced and as the profession or discipline of EMC advanced to a growing volume of civilian-oriented applications, was there a generational gap where the first or second generation was entirely brought up in the military world?

Fischer:

Definitely in the 1950s through the very early '70s, yes. I would say the transition started in the '70s. We had a good twenty-five-year period where it was predominately military and now for the last thirty years one could say it is split.

Vardalas:

Has that affected how the Society has evolved? Were there two groups?

Fischer:

The Society became stronger as opposed to others like the SAE and EIA (Electronic Industry Association). Those committees, while they are still in existence, are not nearly as dominant as the IEEE, in my opinion. CISPR is an international hierarchy and do more with trade regulations and treaties.

Vardalas:

You mentioned earlier that of doing EMI analysis was 2% of the budget, which would save 300%. Is that right?

Fischer:

Yes.

Vardalas:

Does the same kind of logic apply in the civilian sector?

Fischer:

Oh yes. The impact in the civilian sector is even more severe.

Vardalas:

There is even more of an economic rationale for civilians?

Fischer:

Yes, for the simple reason of massive volume. Where we might make 50 systems in the military, in the commercial world and there might be fifty thousand. While the impact of total dollars of each individual system might be significantly less, the quantities are just unimaginable. And then in the commercial world there is the recall factor, for instance the automobile industry having to recall because of faulty light switches.

Vardalas:

Tell me about that.

Fischer:

It was just recently in the paper. That was not an EMI problem, but I'm just pointing out the cost of recalling for instance fifty thousand cars.

EMC Society and standards, FCC

Vardalas:

I see. At what point did the EMC Society or its standards committee begin to get involved with the FAA and FCC?

Fischer:

Their involvement with the FAA started probably fifteen or twenty years ago. I remember sitting in a symposium when an FAA representative stood up and said, "We need help." Just flat out. They should have had EMC-cognizant people addressing the problem.

Vardalas:

Do you recall whether it was a systemic problem? Was it something in particular?

Fischer:

It was a specific issue.

Vardalas:

Do you recall what issue?

Fischer:

No. It was twenty-five years ago or more. I just remember that it was strange to have a representative of a government organization stand up in an IEEE Symposium and ask for help. It was one of the sessions in the '70s or '80s. He said, "We have an issue and it's beyond us solving it by ourselves. We need industry support."

Vardalas:

When did the FCC first get involved?

Fischer:

I would say the FCC was involved all along. I remember recognizing their presence even in the 1960s – though they were there principally involved more as regulators and enforcers rather than as educators. The dissemination of information was not very significant – at least on the West Coast. I am speaking from a West Coast orientation now.

Vardalas:

When did EMC safety concerns as opposed to economic losses become an important factor?

Fischer:

I think that is just recent, to tell you the truth.

Vardalas:

For instance in aircraft.

Fischer:

From an aircraft standpoint that has always been there.

Vardalas:

I don't mean like people with radiation. I'm talking about in general the failure of a system. It can mean economic loss but can also mean human loss.

Fischer:

When I was at Convair there was a group that did nothing but fly airplanes. I was not a part of that group. They were EMC engineers to certify the FAA regulations, making sure of safety and proper communications that would not interfere with aircraft operation – and making sure they could communicate with other aircraft or ground-based equipment. These were very empirical type people as well as measurements. They flew the airplanes and would do certain maneuvers in different scenarios of equipment operations to prove that without a doubt that an airplane was safe to fly. That was back in the '50s.

Vardalas:

Let's go back now to something that probably originated in the military but now is in the civilian sector. With the growing electronic complexity of many civilian systems and subsystems, and many of these systems being produced by different suppliers who do not necessarily talk to each other, how does the question of compatibility get ironed out? For example on a commercial aircraft now they are starting to say, "You can't play this device, you can't have this device on." I'm sure there are a lot of concerns. How was that all worked out? How is EMC know-how brought to bear on this kind of thing? Has it been brought to bear in a systematic way?

Fischer:

I have not been personally involved in it other than our company supplying various types of devices for the measurement. We know very well that aircraft companies create a plethora of testing prior to launch of an airplane. They will mock up an entire aircraft wiring harness – and I mean the entire harness of the aircraft – and play each system in a mockup. And they analyze and physically measure the characteristics of the electrical signals and whether or not there is interference or crosstalk or whatever. I know about this just due to the fact that we provide a large number of devices as sensors, such as clamp-on devices.

Vardalas:

Does it make sense to talk about any attempt to have open standards – if I can use that phrase – that allow different applications to plug in without much fear because all are following similar rules?

Fischer:

I think that that is the way it is going now. In other words, there will be a standard that says a piece of equipment like a Cisco router will have to be compliant to such-and-such a specification or specifications. That is pretty well accepted at least as a starting point of acceptability to be put in a system.

Vardalas:

What role does the EMC Society play in the standards now? Do they play an important role in shaping things on the technical level?

Fischer:

I'm a little out of the loop on this particular question, but my perception is that the overall standards committees and purviews involve not only black boxes but system level integration as well.

Vardalas:

What is your feeling about the growing complexity? I have an image, if you can bear with me for a second. In the early 19th century the only electromagnetic spectrum that would be found flying around was from the sun. That was basically it, right? Today the trails of electromagnetic radiation are ubiquitous. For instance radio transmitters in pallets that tell the bar coding in a factory. With that whole growing complexity of interfaces it seems to me it would be almost mind-boggling to make sure there is no problem.

Fischer:

I think that is true. I guess this is where the Qualcomm and its activities to spread spectrum techniques – with which I am not at all familiar – but those various techniques of modulation and so forth have certainly thus far been meeting the challenges. How well I would have an uneducated guess. It is certainly becoming more complex.

Vardalas:

I am thinking of biomedical devices too.

Fischer:

Absolutely. We supply to the medical industry too.

Vardalas:

There must be a great concern about that.

Fischer:

Absolutely. Putting antennas and things on hospitals for example. A lot of times hospitals are the highest buildings. People love to put telemetry equipment and police radios and etcetera and communications on top of hospitals.

Vardalas:

What does it do to the hospital equipment?

Fischer:

This can be a concern especially when the critical care units are just one floor down.

Vardalas:

Do people who supply this equipment have to test that?

Fischer:

There are also specifications in the medical industry.

Vardalas:

Is your group involved in that too?

Fischer:

To some degree, yes. That's only related. It's background information and related to what spec they are trying to form. As an example, in the area of shielding there is a huge amount of data that has been compiled.

EMC and intellectual property

Fischer:

As to how one would resolve which is super-classified or proprietary or intellectual property, I would say that if you were to take as an example a ferrite manufacturer, he may publish some data but he is certainly not going to tell you his formula or how he concocts his material. No way, José, will you get on the inside of that. Yet you will have all of the available information necessary to know that, "Yes, I could use this material to get there." I don't know that I can answer your question very well in that, but I don't think it's impacted it.

In our own case, that's our life's blood is to provide information and intellectual property ...

Vardalas:

Now is that considered a trade secret?

Fischer:

Both.

Vardalas:

There is always a danger once the patent is revealed that people can find a way around it.

Fischer:

Of course. Absolutely. That is a true statement. A great deal of it is know-how.

Vardalas:

How much does EMC lend itself to getting intellectual property rights out of this? ... How much are these techniques patented? ...

Fischer:

I think from the standpoint of today for instance if you said, "Okay, I've got radiation." Intellectual property offers some unique ...

Vardalas:

Is there still enough fertile ground?

Fischer:

I think so. Sure. Just like you said, of frequency content and bandwidth and so forth. ... information so that it does not interfere. I think the sky is wide open there. I don't see how anybody could make the statement that, "We know all there is to know." In other words we are not going to go back to the days of Milliken and make that statement like his that said, "We now know everything, but we just need to know how to apply it." Forget it.

Vardalas:

Okay.

Fischer:

That would be ridiculous. Personally I think we are just getting started.

Milestones in the history of EMC

Vardalas:

I see. I will probably catch you off guard with this. If you were to, from your perspective, and now you have been let's see what year? ... You really got into EMC let's say in '55.

Fischer:

'55. Right.

Vardalas:

That's fifty years now, a half century.

Fischer:

Yes. I've lived many more years than I ever expected.

Vardalas:

If someone asked you to characterize story of EMC and the real milestones in terms of technological development or key breakthroughs in know-how that mark this field, what would you say? If it is a sub-discipline, then it must have its story and its big events. Does anything come to mind now?

Fischer:

Yes, without a doubt.

Vardalas:

Would you elaborate, please?

Fischer:

Yes, I will try. I will turn again to my basic and very fundamental statements. I'll give you an example here, because I may get a bit off base. A typical filter engineer in the 1940s and '50s was an individual who knew that a quarter microfarad capacitor bypass capacitor and a 100-microhenry choke would stop the typical radio interference. Therefore the radio interference filter industry packaged these identical components into different current-handling capabilities with different physical connectors on them. I liken the filter designer to a people who knew only that this size bypass capacitors and inductors work. Once the technology changed they were lost. When I got into it, all of a sudden we had to look at the theory of how filters were designed. For example with a Chebishev or a Butterworth, we had to look at what those things meant in terms of circuitry. The average filter engineer in the 1940s and '50s did not understand what a Butterworth meant. The process of saying, "I need fundamental education in the basics" was what started EMI on its road to where it is today. It was strictly an analysis of going back to the very basics and understanding the physical phenomena taking place.

Vardalas:

In a sense then the early people who entered this field all had this common approach to things, yourself and others, of going back to fundamentals? They all came in with this know-how and view of the world?

Fischer:

Right. Exactly. They were not ready for change. When the semiconductor field first came in and there were semiconductor power supplies and things like that, impedance did not mean anything to the average filter engineer. When one designed a filter it was important to know the source and load impedance. "What's that?" They did not have a clue.

Vardalas:

Are you saying that the first big step was just the conceptual outlook and being able to go back to fundamentals and study the problem from basic physics?

Fischer:

Absolutely. Once that began, and with that, people were willing to share knowledge. The IEEE promoted that with the technical papers. That's why the papers in the symposia were so eagerly awaited and read voraciously by everyone. We were starved for knowledge. It has always been a continuing influence on how well we did our job.

Vardalas:

Was there division or cleavage in the EMC group between those who wanted and felt it was very important to take accurate and precise measurements and have instrumentation that can do this and those who wanted to do theoretical analysis?

Fischer:

Some of it was an offspring. The experimentalists, those who had a personal mindset to explore the theory of it, would go off that way. I don't think there was a massive movement. Perhaps the universities lent emphasis to the theoretical, but for the companies themselves it was individualistic. None of the companies I worked for looked negatively upon an individual if he wanted to start looking at the theoretical aspects of why something occurred. Personally, I encouraged it because I felt it was a part of the proprietary information and values that they brought to the company.

Vardalas:

Are there any other big technical changes or technological improvements or breakthroughs in the field of EMC that stand out in the last forty years?

Fischer:

I would say probably the instrumentation. The instrumentation in the beginning was pretty crude. The sophistication of not only the ability to understand the problem but the ability to measure it. For instance a Stoddart radio EMI receiver in the 1950s couldn't hold a handle to a Rohde & Schwarz or Hewlett-Packard spectrum analyzer or some other sophisticated network analyzer today. The computing industry has infiltrated that to the extent that it processes data so fast that one can see what is happening in real time.

Vardalas:

Was there a dramatic or important shift in looking at things when this work went to digital and pulse-oriented communications as opposed to analog transmissions? Did that introduce new problems?

Fischer:

It certainly did. I cannot be very explicit on that because I was segmenting myself into my little world here by the time that was occurring. However I do know that just by the statement that says, "I have to deal with pulses and different frequency bandwidths," I would translate that from a time domain to a frequency domain and ask myself what kind of gadgets I needed to build in order to provide an ability to measure this stuff. That always led impetus. That is why the necessity to take a current probe from 100 MHz to 3 GHz was so predominant and pervasive. It was essential in order to provide a client with a tool to do his job. I would say that pulses and data streams brought massive change and spurred development.

EMC pioneers

Vardalas:

This is the last question I will ask you. In the history of the Society or the history of the field in which you had a personal connection, what names stand out?

Fischer:

I wrote a few down here. I got to know Dick Stoddart in the 1950s. In 1939 he was Howard Hughes' radio operator. Dick was the set up in business by Howard Hughes to make receivers and Hughes assisted Dick in getting them qualified. They were the original EMI receivers for shipboard EMI analysis testing. They were actually part of a shipboard cadre of testing equipment that the Navy used to have. They were the first ones that I knew. And of course there was Al Parker. Parker started solar. He was Dick Stoddart's chief engineer for years and years and then broke off from that. He was a very, very sharp guy and was around for a long time. Jerry Rothhammer and Andy Hisch were also in Dick Stoddart's group. I don't know if Andy is still alive. Jerry has passed away. They were very instrumental in early day EMC. You've got more information on them than I knew about. Another individual was Tom Herring. .He worked for me for a couple of years and then went down to work in Huntsville, Alabama. He was in the original Minuteman activity in the 1950s. He lectured and had a number of papers published in the Armor, the Illinois Institute of Technology Transactions. The outstanding thing about him, which was such an enjoyment, was that it was like slapstick entertainment when he lectured. He could lecture on a technical subject and have the audience in stitches all the time while gathering so much information it was incredible. He stands out as very outstanding. I don't know if Tom is still alive. I have not seen him in ten years or more, but he is certainly an individual that affected my life. I mentioned Jim Senn earlier. I worked with Herb Mertel at General Dynamics and we collaborated on a number of things through the years. He was the first one to start translating German documents. He came from Germany originally and became an American citizen in the '50s. Herb was quite active with the IEEE in the translation of documents. Those are some of the individuals that stick out in my mind.

Vardalas:

Thank you very much.